Homemade Chapati and Simple Dal

My goal with sharing recipes on this blog has always been to focus on simple dishes. I’m happiest making and eating fresh, simple, and (mostly) healthy meals and I like sharing how easy that can be to achieve. There are beautiful blogs out there which will guide you through making complex recipes and which challenge and push boundaries. I don’t think I’m pushing any boundaries here, except to offer a (currently) meat and dairy-free approach to cooking that focuses on whole food, plant-based recipes.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that cooking from scratch has to mean time spent frantically dashing around the kitchen trying to whip up something chef-fy and impressive. I think there’s a chance that rather than encouraging people to cook, the current glut of competitive cooking shows on TV only alienates us normal folk and makes cooking delicious food at home seem impossibly complicated and unachievable.

Dal with fried onions

We don’t spend a huge amount of money on food – we’re on a budget and I like the challenge of making delicious meals without spending a lot. We do buy mostly organic produce although the fact that I don’t eat meat or dairy has shrunk our food spending massively. Organic fruit and vegetables certainly come at a price, but it’s nothing compared to meat and dairy, organic or not.

I also don’t have a huge amount of time to spend cooking most days. If I’m lucky, after work there’s an hour available to make something before it’s so late that only toast is practical. At the weekends, more often than not we prefer to be out in the world, exploring this new city rather than hunkered down.

Homemade Chapati

So, inexpensive, simple, quick, and nutritious are my priorities these days and this dal and homemade chapati fall squarely into those categories. Many people assume you need a full cabinet of spices to make good Indian food but this dish is here to prove that theory wrong.

Dal is an excellent dish to make on a budget, requiring only red lentils, water, turmeric, an onion, and cumin seeds. You can’t really get more thrifty or simple than that and yet it packs an almighty flavour punch. Chapati also requires minimal ingredients to create soft, chewy, earthy-tasting, and perfectly charred breads that are lovely alone but perfect with a little chutney spread on them to scoop up dal. Since they require no rise, they are completely practical for a weeknight dinner too. Being lighter than their cousin, naan bread, I find that I can also eat more of them, which is one distinct bonus in my book.

Homemade Chapati and Simple Dal

Simple Dal
from River Cottage Veg


  • 250g / 1 ⅓ cups red lentils
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • a small bunch of parsley or fresh coriander (cilantro), coarsely chopped


  1. Put the lentils in a saucepan with 800ml (3.5 cups) water and bring to a boil. Skim off any scum, then stir in the turmeric and salt. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered for about 15 minutes, whisking vigorously occasionally. The lentils should break down and have the consistency of thick puréed soup. Keep warm in the pan.
  2. When the dal is just about done, heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and fry for a couple of minutes, until browned and fragrant. Add the onion and fry quite briskly for 5-10 minutes until golden brown, with some crispy edges.
  3. Tip the onion mixture into the hot lentils in the pan, cover and leave for 5 minutes, then stir them into the dal. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Serve with fresh parsley or cilantro on top and homemade chapati on the side.

Homemade Chapati (Indian Flatbread)
adapted from Saveur

If you can find chapati flour, by all means, use that. It’s a finely milled whole durum wheat flour called atta in Hindi. I used an organic wholemeal flour which turned out really well.


  • 240g / 2 cups organic plain wholemeal flour
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp organic canola oil
  • 250ml / 1 cup water


  1. Whisk together the flour, salt, oil, and water in a bowl until dough forms. Transfer to a work surface and knead until smooth, for about 4 minutes. Cover with a tea towel and let the dough sit for about an hour.
  2. Divide dough into 10 equal pieces and shape each piece into a ball. Using a rolling pin, roll each ball into a 12cm / 5″ round. Try to maintain a circular shape, but it doesn’t have to be perfect.
  3. Heat a dry cast-iron skillet or frying pan over high heat. Add a dough round and cook for about a minute before turning once, until cooked through and charred in spots, about 2 minutes.
  4. Transfer to a plate and repeat with remaining rounds. Serve hot. Makes 10 flatbreads.

English Oatmeal Bread

June 11, 2012

Today’s blog post exists thanks to my husband Dan. He’s generally the cook in our kitchen while I love baking – except when it comes to bread. A couple of weeks ago he made two loaves of white sandwich bread from the same book mentioned below – Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads – and we devoured them in three days. Notice I said two loaves…

I highly recommend the book – it’s quite the tome in fact, coming in at close to 700 pages and has a recipe for every kind of bread you could dream of, from classic white and wholewheat loaves of every variety to fruit and nut breads, cheese breads, French, Italian, sourdough, flatbread, crackers, brioche, croissants, festive breads, and everything in between. If you’re looking to get started with baking breads, this would be an excellent starting point.

This English oatmeal bread is just the kind of bread I love – a soft, pliable inside full of wholewheat nuttiness. The crust has that all-important crunch and the sprinkle of oats adds a lovely texture to each bite. Warm out of the oven with a swipe of butter, this stuff is completely irresistible.

English Oatmeal Bread
from Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads


  • 2 cups of oatmeal, plus two tbsp for dusting
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp butter at room temperature
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup wholewheat flour
  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 egg, beaten, mixed with 1 tbsp water


  1. In a large bowl soak the oatmeal in the milk for 2 hours.
  2. Stir the yeast into the oatmeal mixture; add the butter, salt, and wholewheat flour. Beat by hand for 100 strokes. Add 1/2 cup bread flour and continue beating for a few minutes longer.
  3. Stir in the rest of the bread flour, 1/2 a cup at a time, first with the spoon and then by hand. The dough will be a rough, shaggy mass that will clean the sides of the bowl. If, however, the dough continues to be slack or moist, and sticks to your fingers or work surface, sprinkle with additional flour.
  4. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead with the rhythmic motion of push-turn-fold. The dough will become smooth and elastic. Occasionally change the kneading rhythm by raising the dough above the table and whacking it down hard against the surface. Knead by hand for about 8 minutes.
  5. Pulse the oatmeal  in a food processor until mixed. Add the yeast, butter, salt, wholewheat flour, and 1/2 cup bread flour. Pulse 3 or 4 times to blend thoroughly. With the processor running, add the rest of the flour, 1/4 cup at a time, through the feed tube. (You might not need all the flour to form a mass – or you might need a little more – add the last portion with care.)
  6. When the dough becomes a rough ball and spins around the processor, take it out and knead it for a few minutes. If the dough is sticky then dust it with sprinkles of flour to help it form into a smooth ball.
  7. Place the dough in a mixing bowl and pat with buttered fingers to keep the surface from crusting. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and put aside at room temperature until it has risen to about twice its original size, 1 1/2 hours. It can also be tested by poking a finger in it – the dent remains when the dough has risen.
  8. Punch down the dough, turn it onto the work surface, and knead briefly to press out the bubbles.
  9. Divide the dough into two pieces with a knife. Shape into balls and let them rest under a towel for 3-4 minutes. Form each loaf by pressing a ball under your palms into a flat oval, roughly the length of the the baking pan (about a 7×3″ pan). Fold the oval in half, pinch the seam tightly to seal, tuck under the ends, and place in the pan, seam down.
  10. Cover the pans with wax paper and leave at room temperature until the centre of the dough has risen above the level of the edge of the pan, about 45 minutes.
  11. Brush the raised breads with egg wash and sprinkle with 2 tbsp oats.
  12. Preheat oven to 400F 2o minutes before baking. Bake in hot oven for 30 minutes, reduce heat to 350F, and continue baking for another 20 or 30 minutes, or until the loaves are a golden brown and test done. Turn one loaf out of its pan and tap the bottom crust with a finger. A hard, hollow sound means it is baked. If the loaves appear to be browning too quickly, cover with a piece of foil. Midway during baking, and again near the end of it, shift the pans so the loaves are exposed equally to temperature variations in the oven.
  13. Remove breads from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Yields two loaves.

corn and gruyère bread

March 28, 2012

This is the second recipe this week that I’ve adapted from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours. I am completely and utterly inspired and smitten. The list on my phone of ‘to-make’s is growing worryingly large.

I bought this book for myself a couple of weeks ago, in need of some baking inspiration. I knew that it wasn’t just new recipes that I was looking for but different approaches.

This book is a series of adventures in baking with different whole grains – grains that are unfamiliar and exciting to me – yes whole wheat, rye, and buckwheat but also kamut, spelt, and teff. These are flavour profiles for a grown up palette and they offer complex, deep, satisfying flavours.

Boyce has put so much work into creating recipes that often combine more commonly used grains (all purpose/plain flour, for example) with something less familiar and unique to create absolute gems of recipes that never compromise on flavour or texture.

This lovely loaf (which I adapted from her muffin recipe) is rich and cheesy with a perfect crunch from it’s cheesy, bubbly crust. It’s both tangy and buttery-creamy from the Gruyère and sour cream. The combination of green onions sauteed in butter and toasted cumin seeds takes it to another level of deliciousness. It made an excellent accompaniment to a bowl of spicy turkey chili but I managed to nibble on several slices with nary a bowl of chili in sight…it’s more than good enough to enjoy alone.

Corn and Gruyère Bread
adapted from Good to the Grain: Baking with Whole-Grain Flours


  •  1-2 bunch green onions, trimmed and rinsed
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • salt and pepper
  • 5.3oz/ 2 cups Gruyère cheese, grated

For the dry mix:

  • 1 cup corn flour
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

For the wet mix:

  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 oz (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly


  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9×5 inch loaf tin with butter and set aside.
  2. Thinly slice the green onions, using the entire onion from greenest to whitest ends. Toast the cumin seeds in a frying pan over medium heat until they start to pop, smell fragrant and turn golden-brown, about 2 minutes. Add the tbsp of butter to the same pan and melt it into the cumin seeds. It’s going to smell amazing. Add the green onions, season with salt and pepper, and saute over medium heat until soft and tender, another 2 minutes. Scrape onions onto a plate to cool.
  3. Sift the corn flour, all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, dark brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Tip any coarse bits of flour that get stuck in the sieve into the mixing bowl too. Add the grated Gruyère and the cooled onion-cumin-butter mixture, stirring to combine.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, eggs, and melted butter until well combined. Using a rubber spatula, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and gently combine.
  5. Scoop the batter into the greased loaf pan and bake in the oven for 45-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted to the centre comes out clean. The top of the loaf will be golden-brown. Remove from the oven and leave in the loaf pan on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Up-end the loaf pan to remove the bread and let it continuing cooling slightly on the rack. Serve warm with a bowl of spicy turkey chili. It will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container (perfect if you make a big batch of chili and want extra bread for lunch leftovers).